Surving Survial Mode

Remember when I wrote my last blog post, I stopped writing because life felt too heavy? Well, it has been exactly a year since I wrote it, and in that very post, I remember promising that I would not let as much time lapse between the next time I wrote. Here’s the deal: life is still heavy, but I am a woman of my word, to the best of my ability. I’ve been sitting on publishing this post for nearly a week, so here we go. Also, unrelated, but today marks my seven year anniversary of living in L.A.

I wrote my last post during one of the most difficult years of my life. It’s now September 2022, and I am still struggling, still evolving, and still searching for the strength to persevere. Life is complicated and full of ups and downs, but gratitude is the fuel that always keeps me going. The truth is, as a Black woman (one who has been blessed with as many wins as losses), I have been in survival mode for the past 10 years. This shit is hard. You have no idea.

Fully embracing your identity in a world that literally writes you off, gaslights you, and constantly invalidates you is complicated, to say the least. The most mind boggling part of my experience in this life is waking up every day and realizing that self-acceptance is single-handedly the best (and for some) only way to experience true joy. Becoming comfortable with who I am, rejecting shame, and simply living is something that cannot be taught to me (and those who look like me), it is something I have to teach myself, furthermore something that I must internalize. Fleeting emotions are going to happen. Feeling like I do not belong is going to happen. Insecurities are inevitable, but being self-assured is critical, through it all.

Letting go of the shame associated with the trauma that drives us into survival mode is the hardest part of healing. But I’ve learned that healing cannot happen until you accept yourself and the realities of your experiences. 

At my big age (34), I know who I am and what I’m about. I finally understand that both my timing and my identity are tools. These are tools that have helped me to gradually work my way out of survival mode and get back to myself. In terms of timing, I realized that I am in a unique position to break generational curses, and set myself up to build wealth–something that generations before me were unable to do. And, in terms of my identity, I’ve realized that it is way more powerful than the world has taught me it should be. Here’s the thing: blackness is not a monolith, and neither is womanhood. I actually love this for me.  

Feeling free from society’s constraints that constantly tell you who, what, and where you should be in life is a gift. I’m finally embracing it. I grew up feeling like my only way to be successful required me to dilute who I am. It’s almost like we are told who we should be from birth, and subsequently, assume the attributes of society’s stereotypes to get ahead. Society has taught me that someone who looks like me has few paths to take, and these are the foundations of survival mode. For me, it was always about doing what I had to do, not what I wanted to do. But there’s a catch. I can do everything ‘right’ by society’s standards, and still fail. But, failure (to me), is less about me failing the masses and more about me failing myself. Once I decided that this was a non-negotiable for me, I had to climb.

I had to climb, rising above others’ expectations, and leaning into my own. Earlier this year, I had to look inward and really ask myself whether I was happy. I had to hesitate, and really think about it. When you’re in survival mode, you tend to act aimlessly. You tend to succumb to what this world tells you, just to get by. I don’t think many people consider just how detrimental that can be to personal development. In my case, the world was telling me that I had to earn the level I was already existing on. It felt like I had to justify to others why I belonged. In hindsight, I realize how crippling that was for me. The world had told me: 

You should be happy you’ve gotten this far. You’re a Black American woman with a masters degree and a job as a director, living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. You have to set an example. You manage six employees. You’re a leader. You’ve been more successful than your family’s previous generation. You have to ignore how you feel to uphold this watered down version of who you are, because you have to appear humble. People love humble Black women. You have to constantly put others first to be seen as worthy of being where you are at your age. You don’t have children, so you have to be the rich auntie, the emotional martyr, and the one who should be happy to pick up the pieces for others. This is your destiny. This is where it ends for you. This is where your inner child goes to die. 

But, it took just as long for me to understand this expectation as it did for me to reject it. Now can we collectively agree that this expectation is absolute bullshit? Because, it is. If it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that my cultural identity is not a weakness. It’s a strength. It’s a gift that I get to give over and over again, in many rooms. So, why not embrace it?

This entire past year has been about me identifying the areas of my life where I am not happy, and setting boundaries (with myself and others) to dig myself out of extreme burnout and high-functioning depression. I’ve been working with my therapist for a little over a year–I cannot recommend therapy enough, by the way. And, I can finally affirm that I have a path forward. 

As cliché as it sounds, the simple act of accepting that I was struggling with both burnout and depression was the first step in my journey out of survival mode. The second step for me was realizing that true healing is a marathon, not a sprint. Small steps are mighty steps. Saying no to something simply because you chose yourself can be the most radical form of self-love on the days that you feel drained. Taking off when you don’t have the mental capacity to work is simply you honoring yourself. These are the small acts that have helped me get out of my head and back into my life. And I hope you can too. 

If ya’ll have gotten this far, I’ll leave you this: just keep going. It gets better. You’ve got this. We got this.